Of nature’s greatest sky spectacles, the total lunar eclipse probably ranks sixth. It does not take one’s breath away like a solar totality, a major aurora display, an exploding meteor or bolide, a great comet or even a rich meteor shower. Nonetheless, it’s quite nice.
We get one every couple of years on average. If it’s cloudy, the clock is reset. Thus, a clear night shouldn’t be wasted if a lunar eclipse will unfold over our region.
The Moon will fully plunge into Earth’s shadow on Tuesday night, October 7. Since the event happens well after midnight, it’s technically October 8. (You can be sure that many will get it wrong, and watch the Moon on Wednesday night, when nothing at all will happen.) So first things first: This is an insomniac event where the action starts at 5:15 a.m., not long before dawn.
The Moon will then be lowish. Observers will need a fairly clear western view. At 5:15 a.m., the first black bite of Earth’s shadow will appear conspicuously on the Moon’s upper left portion. At that point the Moon will be 17 degrees high: not too terribly low.
Earth’s shadow will sweep slowly across the Moon’s face as the Moon sinks lower. Possibly the best time to observe the event is 6:15 a.m. The Moon will then look deliciously bizarre and almost totally eclipsed. If you own binoculars, point them one Moon-width to the upper left of the Moon and seek out a green star. This should be easy. You will then be seeing the strange planet Uranus. Its green color will provide a dramatic contrast with the coppery-red lunar disk.
Alas, at this point, the Moon will stand only eight degrees high. It will be easily hidden behind hills or trees. So if you want to see this eclipse at its best, you should plan to drive to where the low western sky is in the clear. Any place that lets you see sunset – that’s the spot.
Some of us can get a low western sky by walking a little in the neighborhood. Others need to drive, and perhaps it’s a long drive.
If you live right smack in the Catskills, or they tower just to your west, you’ll not likely see a low western sky. But from many parts of Saugerties and Kingston, and even parts of New Paltz, the direction is pretty clear. If it is, then watch totality begin at 6:24 a.m., with the Moon a mere seven degrees up.
This is a very cool Full Moon. It would be noteworthy even if it weren’t in eclipse. It’s the Hunters’ Moon – one of only two officially named Full Moons – and it’s just a couple of days past perigee, so that it’s larger than usual. And as the light of dawn brightens, we’ll have this red Moon hanging low in the west just as the red Sun prepares to rise in the opposite direction.
The red, fully eclipsed Hunters’ Moon sets at 7 a.m. That is the same minute that the Sun rises that morning: very symmetrical and cool, though seeing the fully eclipsed Moon set may be close to impossible in the bright twilight. Still, everything unfolding in the previous 100 minutes or so merits setting the alarm – if the weather’s clear.
Want to know more? To read Bob’s previous “Night Sky” columns, visit our Almanac Weekly website at HudsonValleyAlmanacWeekly.com.